Compulsion

by Paul Niquette
Adapted from 101 Words I Don't Use
Copyright 1996 Resource Books All rights reserved.
compulsion n. 
  1. A state of being compelled. 
  2. An irresistible impulse to perform an irrational act.


he average visitor here loses about $117 per day," I told my brother.  "Mostly in the slots."  Alan is a Baptist minister.  It was his first visit to Las Vegas back in 1979.  We were strolling along dark aisles, gaming machines clanking on either side.  "Which is really not all that much," I continued.  "About the same as their hotel bill plus meals."

"If you're saying that for my benefit," said Alan with a beatific grin, "don't.  The way I see it, people come here for relaxation. The gambling is incidental."

When you have a brother who is a minister, you have a source of endless recreation.  I have two brothers who are ministers, both younger than I by a dozen years. 

"You don't think greed provides part of the motivation?" I chided, gesturing toward a glass case which blocked our path.  Inside was a zucchini-sized river rock which looked to all the world as if it had been painted with a spray can: The Golden Nugget.  My brother gazed through a panel, finger-marked by uncounted supplicants who traipse daily through the smoke-filled casino of the same name.

"If greed were operative," he replied, "I would not condone gambling.  Not just because I'm a Baptist either.  Name one religion that sanctions greed."

"Why else do you suppose grown people spend all day pulling on those handles?" I asked. How curious for me to be taking the righteous side of an argument.

My brother studied a row of unsmiling people laboring over their machines.  Alan grimaced.  "Hardly entertaining," he mused.

"Right you are," I said.  "Wheels turn and stop and turn again.  If watching that by the hour is entertainment, you might expect television programs to feature slot machines in prime time."

Alan pursed his lips.  "Earnestly hoping to win a jackpot, aren't they."

"Actually," said I suddenly, "the problem is worse -- far worse than greed!  Observe..."

A woman in stretch pants won a cup-full of quarters.  Alan and I watched while she fed all of them one by one back into the same machine.

"Alan, as you know, I think 'volition' is the most beautiful word in any language.  What would be the least beautiful word?"

My brother furrowed his brow.  "Compulsion?"

"Let the record show: you said it, not I."

"You mean, because that lady keeps playing after she wins a jackpot," Alan said.  "But all she wants is to win more.  That's the definition of greed."

I shook my head.  "All our lives, we humans are regulated by outside forces.  Children are compelled to attend school, adults to pay taxes, employees to show respect for people they despise, politicians to represent positions they oppose."

"A common complaint," Alan agreed.

"And here we see people inflicting the C-word on themselves, Preacher.  Which is craziness, in my book.  Greed at least makes sense."

Alan shrugged.  "Avarice may be rational but still wrong."

"Ever see a million bucks, Alan?"  I asked suddenly.  "Down the street at the Horseshoe.  Follow me.  I want you to see a million dollars in cash on display."

As we approached the door, I spotted three identical slot-machines, unoccupied.  They were quite rare, for they accepted dimes.  I fished in my pocket and found exactly three ten-cent coins.  An omen.  I stepped up to the first machine and put a coin in its slot. 

"Watch," I said and pulled the handle.  Clunk.  While the wheels were spinning I did the same with the second machine, clunk.  And the third, clunk.  With all three activated, I casually strode through the door into the bright sun.  I crossed my fingers.

"Hey!" exclaimed my brother.  I heard the sound of a bell and quickened my pace.

"What's happening?" he asked.  Alan stood in the doorway of The Golden Nugget Casino and beseeched me to return.  The bell was still clanging.  By now coins would be spilling out of the hopper onto the floor.

"Come along, Alan," spoke I, biting my lip.  "The Horseshoe is this way."

"But, but..."

"Never mind," I said.  "It was only thirty cents."

My brother Alan, the minister, disappeared back inside the casino.  He caught up with me on the sidewalk, pockets bulging.  A moment to remember.


 
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